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Migrant Caravan Rests In Southern Mexico Before Continuing March Toward The U.S.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump has threatened to cut off aid to Central American countries that have failed to stop migrants from leaving for the U.S. We'll have more on that shortly.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

First we go to the southern Mexican town of Tapachula where thousands of these migrants are resting before continuing their march towards the United States. In Tapachula, the central plaza has become a way station. Migrants fill up bottles from a water hydrant to wash themselves after their long journey in 90-degree heat. Elsewhere, a local woman rifled through bags, looking for some children's shoes to donate to a migrant family. Reporter James Fredrick is in Tapachula covering this migrant caravan. And, James, to start, are all the migrants actually there? What are their plans?

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: So the migrants arrived here yesterday, last night. Most of them ended up sleeping here in the plaza. They were here this morning. A group of them just left to continue going north. I've also talked to people here in the plaza who are just too tired from yesterday's walk. They walked more than 20 miles in 90-degree heat yesterday and were just too tired to do the same thing again, so they'll wait here. We also have word that there are more people coming north who are expected to arrive in Tapachula today.

CORNISH: With such a large group, how are all these people getting food or medical care or even shelter?

FREDRICK: Well, shelter - there just really isn't for most of these people. Most of them just slept on the streets or slept in the central park last night. As far as food, water, medical care, that is mostly being done just by local people trying to help them. There are some local NGOs coming to hand things out, but they're relying on people to come and donate things to them really.

CORNISH: Now, I understand there are activists there who are working with this caravan. And some of them actually held a press conference today where they were responding to some of President Trump's claims - right? - including the charge or accusation that there are terrorists among the group. James, can you tell us more about what they had to say?

FREDRICK: Well, on that specific charge that there are terrorists here, the people speaking said, you know, who are the terrorists - these women, these children? They said the only bombs here - and they said this jokingly - the only bombs are the are the babies' diapers here on this caravan. Irineo Mujica, a migrant activist from Pueblo Sin Fronteras, spoke. And he addressed the issue specifically that this was a political movement, that the Democrats had organized this. He said really there are two things to blame for this migrant caravan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IRINEO MUJICA: (Speaking Spanish).

(CHEERING)

MUJICA: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: So he says it's hunger and it's death. That is the true thing driving this migrant caravan. He says this is not a political activity. All the people I've spoken to here didn't even really know what the Democrats meant. So they said, we are just fleeing; we have nowhere to go in our country.

CORNISH: In the meantime, what is Mexico - the government doing at this point? I mean, initially they said that they would only allow in those who had legitimate asylum claims. But they don't really seem to be blocking people who have crossed illegally. So what's going on?

FREDRICK: It's been a bit difficult to figure out what the Mexican strategy or plan here is. As I was walking with the caravan yesterday, we heard there was a blockade. So I went ahead, and I saw about 200 policemen in riot gear planning to block the highway. And then a couple minutes later, they packed up and they left. They did that twice yesterday. So it looked like they might try to stop the caravan, and they never did. Mexican authorities say the police were just there to make sure this was a safe and orderly crossing for people.

But it's been really hard to get a clear idea from Mexico if they're going to stop this caravan. It seems like they're juggling priorities. They want to show President Trump they're doing something to stop this, but they also don't want an international incident of using force against lots of families, women, children that are in this caravan.

CORNISH: That's reporter James Fredrick in Tapachula, Mexico. Thank you for your reporting.

FREDRICK: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.